Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Green field homes election row at Eastleigh

The decision of the Lib Dem-controlled Eastleigh Borough Council to grant planning permission for a 1,400-home development on a green field site in the borough has become an issue in the Eastleigh by-election. But the row only serves to make the opposing candidates look silly, and will do nothing to persuade the electors to come out and vote for politicians who seem unable to rise above petty political point scoring.

What is puzzling about this row is that it is the local Tories (including a neighbouring Tory MP) who are making a fuss about the planning decision, yet in reality the Council (irrespective of which party is in control) had no choice but to approve this application, because of nationally-imposed policies put in place by Tory Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, and enthusiastically supported by the Tory Planning Minister, Nick Boles.

The plain fact is that under the National Planning Policy Framework (published by the coalition government in March of last year), local planning authorities are required to identify in their Core Strategies more than a 5-year supply of housing land in their areas, failing which they must either release more land for development or face losing appeals against their refusal of permission for such developments.

Eastleigh Borough Council does not have a 5-year housing land supply. So it cannot comply with the NPPF. Furthermore, it is clear both from the NPPF and from previous appeal decisions around the country that the council would not be allowed to ‘wait and see’ while its emerging Local Development Framework approaches eventual adoption. The council’s officers recognised this and frankly advised in their committee report that a refusal of planning permission could not be justified. They therefore recommended that the application should be approved, and the elected members very sensibly accepted that recommendation.

In the circumstances, and as an entirely neutral observer, I find it bizarre that local Tories have seized on this planning decision as a stick with which to hit out at their Lib-Dem by-election opponent.

I am politically agnostic, and I don’t give a damn who wins the Eastleigh by-election, but politicians cannot expect to be taken seriously by the electorate if they try to make political capital out of a perfectly neutral and objectively-reached planning decision, which was in effect forced on the local council by the current coalition government through its nationally-imposed policies. It does not seem to me that there is any advantage to be gained by either the Tory or the Lib-Dem candidate in feuding over this decision. It only serves to make them look petty and small-minded, and confirms the suspicions of all too many of us that none of them deserves our votes.

[UPDATE: If anyone has any doubts about the wisdom of Eastleigh BC's decision to grant planning permission in this case, they have only to read the Tewkesbury judgment (see the next item on this blog) to appreciate that Eastleigh had no practical choice in the matter.]

[FURTHER UPDATE (3.9.14): Leave has now been granted for an application to be made to the High Court to quash this decision. The challenge seems to centre on whether councillors were materially misled as to relevant factors to be taken into account and whether this involved a failure to take into account relevant material considerations in addition to those that clearly influenced the decison to grant planning permission. One of these issues would appear to be whether alternative sites ought to have been considered. We shall await the outcome of this case with interest.]


1 comment:

  1. I'm a councillor who sits on the local Planning Committee, and I can confirm that this is absolutely correct. If anything, it's worse than that, because if they fail to build X hundred houses per year, they will be judged to be failing and the planning function will end up in Pickles' greedy little mitts.

    On top of that, big developers do their homework, and simply rejecting the application at committee stage would undoubtedly see a successful appeal (with costs against), and, after enough failures, the loss of the planning function to....well, do I have to spell it out?

    Mendacious rubbish from the Tories. As usual.